Heroes in Training

On a chilly spring morning, students Claire Kiphuth and Daniel Scheidhauer were walking briskly along Presque Isle State Park with heavy packs strapped to their backs. It was 5 a.m., and they and their training partners knew they would have to hurry to complete their 10-mile trek – or “ruck” – in time to make 8 a.m. classes.

Kiphuth and Scheidhauer are frequently tested as cadets in Gannon University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, program while also weighing the demands of the university’s rigorous nursing program.

It’s a challenge that makes a 10-mile pre-dawn ruck look like a walk in the park.

Balancing ROTC’s classes, laboratories and field training exercises with a demanding nursing curriculum calls for next-level commitment from students.

Kiphuth and Scheidhauer undergo physical training from 6 to 7:15 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving just enough time to grab a quick shower and bite to eat before 8 a.m. classes. As junior nursing majors, they also have extensive off-campus clinical assignments that can sometimes conflict with their regular academic and military science classes.

“I’m always looking ahead at what’s due in two days ... because as a nursing major, studying for one to two days before an exam is not going to cut it,” said Scheidhauer, who is a Mercer, Pa. native.

Military discipline is second nature to Kiphuth, a self-described Army brat who has lived in so many places that she has trouble recalling all of them. 

For Kiphuth, a life of service that combines nursing and the Army is a family legacy. Her father is a colonel stationed in North Africa, and all her siblings are in the military. Her mother is a nurse, as were her grandmother and great-grandmother.

“I’m the perfect combination,” Kiphuth says.

Leadership Lab

Scheidhauer and Kiphuth participate in a leadership laboratory with other ROTC cadets.

Yet, Kiphuth said neither ROTC nor nursing were in her plans as a student attending a small international high school in a Tel Aviv suburb. Two of her siblings became cadets and enjoyed their experiences, so she decided that was “something I wanted to also be a part of,” she said.

“I’ve had the inclination to want to take care of others, and when thinking about what I want to do in life, it just seemed like it was my calling. It wouldn’t be just a job; it would be a lifestyle. (Nursing) would be something interesting and making a bigger impact,” she added.

It hasn’t always been easy. 

“I put a lot of pressure on myself because I have that legacy. So, I thought I would be super good at everything right off the bat,” she said.

That didn’t always happen. On Kiphuth’s first field exercise, she accidentally dropped her canteen into a portable latrine. Yet the lows can quickly turn into high points, as Kiphuth learned last summer in the Army’s punishing Air Assault Training course when she beat her expected time in the required four-mile run by a wide margin.

Leadership Lab

ROTC leadership laboratory

Personal achievements are important milestones for Kiphuth, but ultimately, ROTC and nursing for her are communal efforts.

“We are all trying to work on academics, work on our (physical training) scores, and just trying to uplift everyone around us. And I think that is pretty special,” she said.

Like hundreds of Gannon University cadets before them, Kiphuth and Scheidhauer will be commissioned into the Army as second lieutenants after graduating with a four-year degree and successfully completing the ROTC course of study. They will join the more than 1,200 officers who have been commissioned from the Pride of Pennsylvania Battalion at Gannon.

It’s a familiar path for Lt. Col. Daniel LaFountain, Gannon’s professor of military science and a former ROTC cadet. Lt. Col. LaFountain heads the Pride of Pennsylvania Senior Army ROTC Battalion, which includes students from all majors at Gannon as well as Mercyhurst University and Penn State Behrend.

Leadership Lab

ROTC leadership laboratory

Lt. Col. LaFountain emphasized the cadets’ desire to pursue a bigger purpose through ROTC.

“Everybody talks about millennials as being self-centered, but I’ve been so incredibly impressed by all our cadets’ willingness to think bigger, to think beyond themselves,” LaFountain said.

“They want more. They want to do great things. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

By John Chacona, guest contributor  

A First-Hand Lesson in Leadership

Major General David J. Francis ’89 returned to Gannon University to visit with students in the Pride of PA ROTC Battalion on the university’s Erie campus in March.

Francis spent the morning in physical training with cadets before delivering a presentation where he shared his own experience in becoming commanding general in the United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence.

Commissioned from Gannon ROTC in 1989, Francis continued his education at the Aviation Officer Basic Course and flight school, graduating in 1990. From there he served in a series of commands and staff positions with the U.S. Army with deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, among others. He most recently served in leadership roles with the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala., transitioning to his current position as commanding general in 2019.

Francis attributed much of his success to the preparation in Gannon’s ROTC program.

“We do a lot of leadership development in the ROTC program, but what Gannon provides is much broader in terms of your character, your faith and your intellect, and that has helped me throughout my career,” Francis told cadets. 

“The leadership of the ROTC program here and the environment that Gannon provides allows you to explore the challenges that you’re going to face – whether that be physical challenges, leadership challenges, or even questions about national security challenges,” he added. 

Major General David J. Francis ’89

(Left) Major General David J. Francis ’89 addresses ROTC cadets at Gannon. (Below) Lieutenant Colonel Daniel J. LaFountain, professor of military science at Gannon, honors Maj. Gen. Francis as the ninth member of the Gannon ROTC General Officer Wall.

Francis also used his presentation to teach cadets about key values needed to serve in the Army. He emphasized certain virtues – like trust – as being equally important as professional military education.

“What we do at the end of the day is put our lives in the hands of the persons who are to our left and to our right, and they put their lives in yours,” he said. “It’s really important for you to understand that. …As you move into your Army career, the one thing that is really hard to gain and easy to lose is trust. You have to earn that trust and you have to continue to earn it every single day.”

Following the presentation, Francis engaged cadets in a Q&A session followed by a brief ceremony to honor certain cadets who have shown exemplary commitment to ROTC.

Gannon University held a brief ceremony inducting Francis as the ninth member of the Gannon ROTC General Officer Wall, which commemorates all the graduates of the Gannon ROTC program who have achieved the rank of general officer.

Francis concluded the event with a heartfelt thanks to cadets.

“I want to thank you for raising your right hand that is guarding the uniform that you’re wearing today. To say yes, I will serve something bigger than myself that is absolutely vital to the national interests of the United States of America and to be a part of a team that’s unlike any other,” he said.

By Brianna Mariotti, content marketing strategist

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